International Women’s Day Feature 2020 – The Women’s Art Register, Melbourne by Taya Shania, Women’s Art Register volunteer and art history student
What is the Women’s Art Register?
Simply put, the Women’s Art Register is a living archive of the work of thousands of women artists – cis, non-binary and trans inclusive. The wholly volunteer organisation uses their precious time to do so much more than anyone outside would imagine, and, as one of their volunteers, I have found their efforts to document and advocate for female artists in Australia incredibly inspiring.
The Women’s Art Register is a unique organisation and a collection of national significance. Enlightening their audience and challenging traditional histories of art is at the forefront of their practice. The volunteers are focussed on addressing the gaps and inconsistencies in the patriarchal art-historical canon, in its place constructing an ongoing and living legacy that inspires and encourages current and emerging female artists to fight for their voice within the industry.
The many volunteers are also deeply committed and working tirelessly to care for and expand the Women’s Art Register collection – 12500 slides, 20000 digital images, 4000 information folders and an extensive library of books and journals – as well as publishing educational materials, a journal (The Women’s Art Register Bulletin), hosting events and exhibitions, and generally advocating for Australian women artists. Throughout their 45 year history, the Women’s Art Register has maintained a significant voice across Melbourne’s historic and contemporary feminist art discourses, and their broader Australian membership and audience.
What benefits does the Women’s Art Register yield for future generations? I believe they are immeasurable and immense. Primarily, the Register provides the community – artists, researchers, councils, institutions, curators and the general public – an extensive archive that represents women artists and their work in a non-biased inclusive way. The Women’s Art Register collection goes back to the mid 19th century. The opportunity to contribute to this unique collection is open to all who identify as a woman artist, and no gatekeepers are there to determine their worth. Through this broad outlook, the Women’s Art Register is changing the narrative of art history and giving a voice to women artists who have been marginalised in the patriarchal art world.
The Women’s Art Register also offers community. Through their membership platform and public programming, the strength and capacity of women and men is harnessed to build community, share knowledge and art, learn and teach, and support each other in these difficult times.
The Importance of Knowing and Honouring Female Artists
Women have forever been an integral part of the arts but have systematically been disregarded and disrespected when it comes to representation and documentation. Many female artist’s work has been misattributed, to be labelled by their husbands, fathers, brothers or teachers. Only a small sample of women found their way into our history books, and even then, were notable only as the wives, sisters or daughters of a famous (male) artist, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, previously known only as her father Orazio’s daughter. Organisations like the Women’s Art register are fighting back and honouring the histories of those who have been misrepresented, and working to achieve equity for contemporary artists today. Gender equity in the art world is now on the rise. It’s hard to believe we are still fighting these same issues! Yet the Women’s Art Register is there doing the work of feminism, and continuing to care for its collection and honour its legacy.
The Women’s Art Register Bulletin has been published for over thirty years and highlights the voices of women artists in Australian and international. News, reviews, critique and discussion extend the work of the Women’s Art Register and its collections. The journal is now available as a digital publication via the National E-Deposit Scheme (NED) in all State Libraries across Australia.
The Women’s Art Register (MEL) and (RE)Present (NYC) connected in an Intergenerational dialogue and a collaborative feminist zine poster. Coinciding with the 2018 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition presented by the National Gallery of Victoria, MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, an extensive program of events was presented by leading Melbourne organisations and communities exploring culture, politics, business and the everyday experience as seen through the eyes of New Yorkers and Australians.
The Women’s Art Register contribution The Great Divide: feminist art practice across generations and geography – was a live discussion event with (RE)Present (NYC) and a collaborative zine poster project. The poster zine, designed by Lisa Mansfield, was generated via an online call for responses to the question “What’s Your Feminism?” (image also designed by Lisa Mansfield). Selected drawings were meshed with text from RE/PResent in a collaborative response. Our poster was pasted at 100 locations in inner Melbourne, and distributed in NYC to members of the (RE)Present collective.
Taya Shania is a Monash University student, artist, writer and curator. She has a passion for art history, with particular interest in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Taya strives to use her connections and experience to make art broadly accessible, rather than feared as the unknown. Taya is a volunteer at the Women’s Art Register.
The Women’s Art Register is Australia’s living archive of women’s art practice (cis, non-binary and trans inclusive) and a National, Artist-Run and Not-for-Profit community and resource.
Assessed as a ‘Collection of National Significance’ through the Heritage Collections Council in 2009, this unique archive houses the images, catalogues, posters and ephemera of over 5000 Australian and International artists.
Since 1975 the Women’s Art Register has provided an inclusive, independent platform for research, education, advocacy and support for its members and the Arts, Education and GLAM sectors, enhancing the status of women artists and addressing issues of equity, professional practice and cultural heritage.
Research enquiries, new members and volunteers welcome!
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